Daily Archives: December 29, 2009

I don’t blame Obama for this – but he’d better fix it, fast

WSJ: Crotch Bomber’s father met with CIA in Nigeria to warn them about his son.

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met on Nov. 19 with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to U.S. officials.

That led to a broader meeting the next day in which the information was shared with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department, a U.S. official said. Officials said it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington then effectively analyzed the information gathered in Nigeria.

NYT has more:

Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of Al Qaedathere were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack. While the information did not include a name, officials said it would have been evident had it been compared to information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.

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Have you seen this study on terrorism?

I was prowling the web looking for arguments, pro and con, on profiling terrorists and came across this Library of Congress study published in 1999. I’ve just skimmed it (it’s over 150 pages) but it’s unbelievable how prescient its authors were before 9/11, warning that religious fanatics were the most dangerous of terrorists, predicting that terrorists would start adopting suicide explosive belts and saying that Osama bin Laden would most assuredly seek massive revenge against the US for the bombing of his desert camp in Afghanistan. I’ll print it out for faster reading but I recommend it highly based just on what I’ve read so far.

Try this , p. 64 – remember, this study was completed in 1999 – we seem to have completely ignored it for the past ten years.

For example, a case could be made that U.S. Customs personnel should give extra scrutiny to the passports of young foreigners claiming to be “students” and meeting the following general description: physically fit males in their early twenties of Egyptian, Jordanian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Algerian, Syrian, or Sudanese nationality, or Arabs bearing valid British passports, in that order. These characteristics generally describe the core membership of Osama bin Laden’s Arab “Afghans” (see Glossary), also known as the Armed Islamic Movement(AIM), who are being trained to attack the United States with WMD.

Or this, P. 7
Al-Qaida’s expected retaliation for the U.S. cruise missile attack against al-Qaida’s training facilities in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. Al-Qaida could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters. In addition, both al-Qaida and Yousef were linked to a plot to assassinate President Clinton during his visit to the Philippines in early 1995. Following the August 1998 cruise missile attack, at least one Islamic religious leader called for Clinton’s assassination, and another stated that “the time is not far off” for when the White House will be destroyed by a nuclear bomb. A horrendous scenario consonant with al-Qaida’s mindset would be its use of a nuclear suitcase bomb against any number of targets in the nation’s capital. …
Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way for the cruise missile attack against his Afghan camp in August 1998.

Or even this, p.64.

To Western observers, the acts of suicide terrorism by adherents of Islam and Hinduism may be attributable to fanaticism or mental illness or both. From the perspective of the Islamic movement, however, such acts of self-destruction have a cultural and religious context, the historical origins of which can be seen in the behavior of religious sects associated with the Shi’ite movement, notably the Assassins (see Glossary). …Such attackswere suicidal because escape was not part of the attacker’s plan. According to scholars of Muslim culture, so-called suicide bombings, however, are seen by Islamists and Tamils alike as instances of martyrdom

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Never let a good scare go to waste

For those of you who can still remember “Swine Flu”, you’ll be gratified to learn that the folks who first whupped up the fervor over it haven’t given up yet.“It could still mutate, and then it really would be dangerous,” some UN  flake is warning. “We predict that will happen in Y2 -k, when all the computers around the world are suddenly going to ….”

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Rep. Himes: “You did a heck of a job, Jimbo”

Our boy wonder reflects on his first year in office and all he has accomplished.

When Jim Himes arrived in Washington as a freshman congressman from the 4th District nearly one year ago, the country was faced with the worst recession in generations, an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and a high-decibel health care debate. But the Greenwich Democrat saw opportunity in the challenge, “because of the way a crisis aligns people and brings them together.” [He’s right – Obama’s popularity is now as low as Congress’s: everybody hates the government].

For example, he said the Affordable Health Care for America Act, recently passed by the United States House of Representatives, [which he still hasn’t read nor understood] was “endorsed by Americans representing all walks of life,” including Consumer Reports, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the AARP, the non-partisan League of Women Voters and the American Cancer Society. [In fact, anyone who wanted anything in this bill got it – we bent over lower than Obama meeting he Emperor of Japan]

Himes said that although the bill is imperfect, it is a “critical step in the right direction, which will allow us to join every other civilized nation on the planet in offering each of our citizens decent, affordable health care [the fact that we spend twice as much as those other civilized nations now and plan to spend even more is irrelevant – finally, we can get some respect in Paris salons] . I’m proud of the House for passing it.”“It will be catastrophic if it’s not passed in the Senate,” he added [and worse if it is]. “But I am optimistic that it will be passed eventually.”

His historic election removed a 21-year incumbent Republican, Christopher Shays, and sent a Democrat to the House to represent the 4th District for the first time since 1966.Himes acknowledged that his district, which ranges from Bridgeport to Greenwich, may be one of the most “economically diverse” in the country. But he describes himself as a “moderate,” who is “business-friendly and less interested in parties and ideology than in solutions that work.”He said he has brought an independent voice to Washington.

For example, he opposed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in July when he urged that the health care vote be delayed until after the August recess so “we could fully vet its implications with our constituents.” “Change involving 17 percent of our economy, life and death issues and the most complex policy challenges I’ve ever seen should not be rushed,” he said.[but I voted for it anyway and then went home and ignored my constituents’ comments]

The former Goldman Sachs investment banker and Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar said he is “not a career politician,” [not yet, anyway, and not if we can help it]adding that he challenged Shays because of his support for the Iraq war and Bush’s economic policies.[victory in Iraq, low taxes on business]

He said he is gratified to see President Barack Obama’s “responsible plan to bring an end to the war in Iraq, returning our heroic soldiers to their families and to the gratitude of their country.”

However, he added, “We must refocus America’s military resources on defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and be clear in our mission there [by which I mean cut and run just as soon as we can decently accomplish it but no later than 2011 in any event] .”The economy “is starting to turn around,” he said, “but the question is, ‘At what point do families see more jobs and how do we work out the health care problem?’

”The financial industry needs stronger regulations to protect the economy from its free fall last year, he said, adding, “We must make sure banks and investment brokers never bring down the system again.” [which is why he is bringing back the Glass Steagall Act which no reputable economist thinks had anything to do with the crash brought on by Washington and Jimbo’s  former friends on Wall Street] [which is also why he and his party have given Fannie Mae an unlimited blank check to keep subsidizing uncreditworthy borrowers and bring back no-money-down mortgages]

He has also adopted the cause of regulating the cruise industry, a position advocated by Shays. A spotlight was cast on the unregulated $38-billion-a-year industry — in which cruise lines are registered in foreign countries — after George Smith of Greenwich went missing from his honeymoon cruise in 2005. Himes was co-sponsor of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act that passed in the House last month and is expected to be approved by the Senate.“Had the safety improvements and post-incident regulations mandated by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act been in place in 2005, this horrible tragedy might have been prevented,” Himes said. [The proposed act will force foreign ships to report when drunks fall or are pushed off their ships, period. – how that would have prevented Smith’s death remains as much a mystery to Himes as what’s in the Health Care bill].

Himes said one politician he admired was Robert Kennedy “because of his personal journey [he took a limo through Harlem] in coming to understand the disenfranchised.[whatever the hell “disenfranchised” means – it sounds good, though, don’t it? I think it means taking more from the middle class and giving it to bureaucrats while leaving the poor poor and the rich rich – a Kennedy specialty].

He would like to see a “more thoughtful debate” on the national level than some of the acrimonious and divisive political exchanges he said he has witnessed. Alluding to 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, a New Canaan resident, he said, “If you don’t agree with them, you’re a Socialist. Let’s have a debate based on ideas and thoughtful deliberation instead.” [like, if you supported the war in Iraq you were a baby-killing Zionist tool of Cheney – that kind of thoughtful debate?]

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Bad ideas never die

Just in case we need more nails in the economy’s coffin, the Democrats are bringing back the union card-check law, which they expect to enact next year.

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The importance of picking your friends carefully

Farouk (in drag): You like me, you really like me!

Choose wrong and you’ll meet guys who stuff a bomb in your underwear and send you on a one-way flight to America.

From his postings on the muslim version of FaceBook, “Death to infidels”, we learn that the crotch bomber lead a lonely life.

farouk  sought advice and friendship, often revealing a deep sense of isolation and emotional turmoil. In February 2005, he wrote that he was lonely sometimes “because I have never found a true muslim friend.”

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Does Janet Napolitano have a friend at Winchester?

If she didn’t before, she does now, because she’s ordered 200 million rounds of pistol ammo for her employees. (From Paco Blog)

The Department of Homeland Security has placed an order for 200 million rounds of pistol ammunition (.40 caliber, hollow-point) over the next five years for use by its Immigration, Customs and Enforcement division.

Let’s see now, ICE has approximately 15,000 employees. Not all of them are licensed to carry firearms, but just to keep the math simple, we’ll divide the whole shebang into 200 million. That works out to a little over 13,000 rounds per employee over five years, or approximately 2,600 per employee per year.

Now, in case the entire population of Mexico tries to cross the border over the next five years, this would be enough to shoot everybody twice; however, this event seems unlikely, and would represent a pretty harsh response, anyway.

So, what’s it all about, Janet?

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8 Alpine Road

(Artist's rendering)

A reader asked whether the humongous house at 8 Alpine is a spec project. Indeed it is and it’s actually listed on our MLS, for $12.750 million. That’s for around 11,000 sq. feet, 3000 of which is probably underground, and two acres. The builder, a guy named Schecter from Ridgefield, paid full price: $2.995 for the land in November, 2007, which may not have been the best of timing.

Not to be picky, but I find it cheesy to see “approved pool site” on listings at this price range. Even if I didn’t want a pool, I’d expect one. I’m sure there’s plenty of negotiating room to include one, but it’s irritating.

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545 banks in trouble – is yours on the list?

Probably: most of our locals are

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Who needs a broker when you can auction it off yourself?

Our trained representatives are standing by to help you!

Well, maybe this guy.

 

FORT LAUDERDALE – A $3 million waterfront house with amenities like a home theater won’t be raffled off after all.

The homeowner, Miles Brannan, was trying to unload it through the raffle drawing. The plan was for him to pay off the nearly $2 million he still owes on the house, give a chunk of the proceeds to charity, and still have enough left over to buy his family a condo.
Brannan … said last week that too few tickets had been sold — a mere 63,000 to 65,000, way less than the hoped-for 300,000. That’s a common problem with such raffles, consumer affairs officials say.

Eventually the charity organizing the raffle, The Mission of St. Francis, decided to turn the drawing for a fancy house into a drawing for a pot of cash: $800,000, to be split 50/50 between the raffle winner and the charity.

“You can’t please everybody,” Labarga said. “What we’re trying to do right now is do the right thing.”

Brannan, an investor, bought the house four years ago for $2.35 million and said because of the economic downturn, he is struggling to maintain it.

Now he’s stuck with it. “I have no idea what we’re going to do next,” he said Monday. “I just don’t know.”

Labarga said the charity started selling raffle tickets for $10 apiece. When sales slowed, to raise more money, the ticket price was raised to $30. But only about 20,000 buyers came forward — at least one from as far away as London — to buy between 63,000 and 65,000 tickets.

On Saturday the charity sent out an e-mail about extending the drawing to March. But when ticket holders protested that they didn’t want to wait, the idea was scrapped in favor of the 50/50 split, Labarga said.

“We said since the numbers were not there, let’s go to the 50/50 and get it over with,” Labarga said. “A lot of people are saying will you do a new raffle? We want the house and we want it re-raffled. People are funny.”

State law prohibits nonprofit groups from canceling a drawing or making ticket sales a condition of a giveaway. Violators could face misdemeanor charges, but that’s unlikely to happen in this case. Fort Lauderdale Sgt. Frank Sousa said Monday that no complaints have been filed over the Coral Ridge Country Club house raffle.

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Some sales, some contracts

62 Vineyard Lane sold for an even $10,000,000. This one was off my radar – contract date of December 7th but I never saw it or, it’s possible it wasn’t reported at the time – it happens.

60 Meadow, in Riverside, sold for $3.565. That’s impressive.

4 Weston Hill, also in Riverside, is finally under contract. I always liked this house but couldn’t get my clients to bite. Now someone has.

UPDATE: Our old family friend (the late) Kit Wright’s cottage on Pear Lane in Belle Haven is reported sold at $10,000,000. This was a wonderful, quirky little house but its location on Greenwich harbor made it subject to all sorts of onerous coastal regulations and I doubt you could do anything to it because of them. The notice on the MLS says “sold direct” which means it sold (without a commission – damn, that hurts) to a buyer who had expressed interest in the property before it was listed and thus excluded from the listing agreement.

I’m just speculating here but I know that Kit’s neighbor, the Egyptian fellow who was uncle to the kid who got killed with Princess Di, had a standing offer to buy her place and thereby reunite the original manor with its staff quarters. This place started at $16.5 million a year or two ago and – again, I do not know the facts of the matter – I’d wager the heirs got tired of waiting for someone to show up who would pay that much money and went with the standing, lower offer.

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Megan McArdle: renting sucks too

As usual with this writer, she raises some interesting points.

Excerpt:

I agree with all of this.  You should not buy a house because “renting is throwing your money away” or because you expect the house to become a cash cow.  As an investment, housing is a good form of forced savings, but do not expect price appreciation to make you rich–nay, not even if it made your parents and all your neighbors rich.

But these articles, and the homeownership-skeptics (of which I am sort of one) often give short shrift to the benefits of owning.  Renting has hidden costs, too.  Outside of New York, with its massive stock of professional landlords hamstrung by restrictive rent rules, renting means you usually have to move every few years, because the landlord wants to live in the house again, or is selling it, or wants to raise the rent too much in the hope that you’ll be too lazy to move.  Moving costs a ton of money, between the movers (now that I’m getting old and creaky), the new furniture that is inevitably required, and the old furniture that cannot be fit into the new house and must be thrown away.  Moving also soaks up a month or so of your time on each side of the move, which needs to be factored in for both lost income and sheer misery.

Then there is the inability to have your house the way you want it.  Sure, it’s not like we could afford high-end appliances.  But if we owned our house, I might be able to hope that someday we would acquire a water heater bigger than a thimble, rather than hopelessly resigning myself to shallow, lukewarm baths.  I might also be able to sink screws into the ceiling for a hanging potrack, install blackout curtains so that I could sleep later than 6 am in the summer, and otherwise make the house over more to my specifications.  But the owners are fond of their home the way it is, so it stays.

For a long time, I didn’t care so much about this.  I liked the freedom renting gave me.  But once you’re committed to a city, and another person, that freedom starts looking overrated.

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Whack jobs at work

f he still refuses to talk, innoculate him

Connecticut chiropractors are fighting a proposal that would require them to inform patients that the run the risk of stroke by having their necks wrenched. The bone twisters claim that an informed consent rule “would not serve the public interest” even though the risk is real. This is contrast to their position on a service they don’t sell: vaccines where, they maintain, doctors should inform patients of the “risks” associated with vaccine including autism and the voice of Don Imus’s wife droning in their heads, forever.

Interesting history of the groups’ history of nuttiness and their opposition to vaccines here.

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Bad news for housing prices

Shiller Index is out but the sales activity masks underlying weakness

Home prices rose modestly in October, mostly because of a flood of buyers seeking to take advantage of the government’s offer of a tax credit, data released Tuesday showed.

Underneath this apparent good news, however, were some disquieting signs of deterioration.The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, a widely watched measure of the housing markets in 20 metropolitan areas, rose 0.4 percent from September on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was the fifth consecutive month that prices were up.But seasonal adjustments tend to hide any weakness in the cooler months, when fewer houses are sold. On an unadjusted basis, the index was flat in October.

“We’ve started to see the possibility of either a leveling off of prices for a few months or perhaps a double-dip,” said Maureen Maitland, the vice president for index services at S.& P.

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Expensive at any price?

GM, trying to rid itself of its leftover and now-discontinued Saturn and Pontiac lines, is slashing prices to dealers so buyers can get one for 46% of sticker price. You’d save money, but still end up with a Pontiac, which seems like a lousy deal to me.

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Raj Rajaratnam, part one

The WSJ’s out with the first of a two-part story on Greenwich and Round Hill resident Raj Rajaratnam’s rise and, maybe, fall. (Go to Google news and search for Raj for access to the Journal article, if you’re not a subscriber). His top trader, Chuck whatshisname – Rothman?) , is also mentioned. Between them, the two men own at least three Greenwich properties so keep you eye out for bargains. Not saying anything bad is going to happen, mind you, but between the SEC complaint, the indictment and, it seems, a continuing FBI investigation, ya never can tell.

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Greenwich Time web site removes clutter

That’s what they’re boasting and I suppose they have, by eliminating any news and adding a “Twitter Page” where one can respond to such pressing issues as “what did you get for Christmas?” I have nothing against putting sixth-grade interns to work during vacation redesigning web sites but some adult supervision here might have yielded better results. Of course adults, even newspaper employees, still expect to be paid something for their efforts.

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More tax dollars to be spent propping up housing prices?

That’s what this commentator figures.

When the Treasury announced on Christmas Eve that it was lifting the limit on how much Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) could receive, one point that may have been lost on people was that neither of the GSEs were yet anywhere close to the $200 billion they’d been alloted.

It’s not like there was a need, under the current system to give them a permanent, unlimited blank check to cover their losses.

So then, maybe that’s not what’s going on.

Maybe it’s this, via MarketWatch

The government’s decision to provide unlimited support to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac probably presages more aggressive action to prop up the U.S. housing market.

The government may put a mortgage-modification effort, called the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, into overdrive in coming years, pushing for reductions in the principal outstanding on home loans overseen by Fannie and Freddie Bose George, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a note to investors Monday.

So basically, Fannie and Freddie will be called on to do everything humanly possible to prop up the housing market in the coming years. Mortgage purchases, principal reductions… everything. And as it goes nuts in its efforts, it will need a blank check so that its lenders don’t even get slightly nervous.

Another serious dip in housing would be killer to this recovery and Obama’s Presidential career. That can’t be let to happen.

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More Pixie dust from Obama

Speaking to the nation yesterday, Obama said, “the incident demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient stronger than an isolated extremist”. 

I’m not so certain how “isolated” Mr. Hot Croth is – his friends in Yemen certainly claim he is not, but “extremist“? Is Obama out of his simple mind?

An extremist might write an angry letter to an airline president complaining about security delays – he might go farther, and dash a hot cup of coffee in a TSA emplyee’s face. This man tried to blow up an airplane and kill 300 of Obama’s fellow citizens.

Obama seems to be reading from Harry Potter, afraid to name the dark terror and hoping that, but not naming it for what it is, it will go away. We’re in trouble.

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